Royal New Zealand Ballet workshop for College Dance Students

August 29, 2014 at 3:58 PM

This week, College students from Years 10 to 13 were privileged to welcome seven dancers from the Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) to their classes to work alongside them in a workshop setting. Each workshop took a different focus with plenty of opportunity for our students to ask questions about the life of a professional dancer.

DSC_0445.jpgAmong the visitors was one special guest, former Saint Kentigern student, Nathanael Skelton who graduated in 2002. Nathanael currently dances with the RNZB having recently returned from Europe where he began his career as a professional ballet dancer based in the United Kingdom.

For Nathanael, the return to College was ‘coming full circle.’ When he attended Saint Kentigern, it was a boys-only College and dance was not a curriculum subject. He was pleased to be able to return and see the changes since his time, especially the inclusion of a dedicated dance studio in the Sports Centre complex and to see dance offered as a curriculum subject.


Nathanael told the students that whilst he had danced since he was seven, it was just one of the many activities he undertook growing up and that during his teenage years it even went on the back-burner for a while. Head of Dance at the College, Mr Geordan Willcox, a former ballet dancer with RNZB for 13 years, recalls Nathanael dancing minor roles with the company as a youngster. It was about the time he graduated from College that he made a decision to make dancing his career.

Nathanael furthered his training at the International Ballet Academy in Christchurch before being awarded a scholarship to complete his final year at the Elmhurst School of Dance in Birmingham. He worked as an apprentice at Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) and was invited to dance at the Royal Opera House, Convent Garden, as part of a Young British Dancer of the Year gala. In 2006, Nathanael joined the BRB and was often on tour with the company. He said he feels privileged to have danced on the stage of some of the greatest theatres in Europe but is now pleased to have returned to his roots to become part of the RNZB.

The students were keen to ask about the daily life of a professional dancer and were surprised to hear of the huge physical demands of a working day. A day for dancer may start with an hour and a half of stretching and pilates, before an hour and half dance class. This may be followed by a 10k conditioning run, time spent in the pool in a jumping programme that strengthens the leg muscles without putting strain on the body followed by an ice bath before heading into show rehearsals and then an evening performance. This is generally a six day week during performance time!

Nathanael said that whilst their performance on stage may appear a graceful, effortless art form, sports science is applied to their training and technique to ensure that they are at their peak, minimise stress on their bodies and stay injury free. He cited the lead role for one interpretation of Beauty and the Beast that required the dancer to wear a full fur costume for the Beast, causing a huge loss of body weight up to 5kg during a single performance. A physiotherapist remained in the wings to monitor the dancer at all shows.

The afternoon workshops saw the seven visiting dancers work with small groups of students to develop a dance under the guidance of the RNZB educator. The focus was on the influence and development of neo-classical work, part of the students’ NCEA course work.  They learnt about the historical background to this period and were required to include formation dancing, a pirouette, a jump and an element of travel that reflected the neo-classical style. The students engaged well with the visitors and really enjoyed the opportunity to dance with the professionals when they presented the work to their peers.

Mr Wilcox, has moved on from his role as a professional ballet dancer to that of an educator. When studying towards his Master of Creative and Performing Arts in Dance Studies, his research was focused on mentoring and supporting male dancers. He is keen to see a greater number of boys join the dance programme. One of the current Year 12 boys enjoying taking dance is Wesley Tameifuna, best known for his skill on the field with the 1st XV. He was singled out early in the workshop for his ‘amazing poise’ and ‘natural ability’ as a dancer. Wesley would also encourage more boys to join him to study dance!

In their final round of questions, the RNZB visitors were asked what they loved about ballet? The answer? ‘Virtuosity, the sense of being at one with the movement and the music, and the constant search for perfection.’

We thank the members of the Royal New Zealand Ballet for spending time to work with and dance alongside our students. It was greatly appreciated and the students really enjoyed and learnt a great deal from the experience.

College Dancers to perform with APO
A number of our senior dance students are currently rehearsing for Te Manu Ahi (The Firebird) in conjunction with the Atimira Dance Company and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra for a performance in October. The students will perform twice in the Aotea Centre on Wednesday 22 October. There is a concert for schools in the morning followed by a public performance at 1pm. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students with tickets available from the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra website:

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